AISLE SAY San Francisco


Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Directed by Robert Kelley
Presented by TheatreWorks
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro St., Mountain View, CA / (650) 903-6000

Reviewed by Judy Richter

The old saying, "Less is more," certainly applies to TheatreWorks' production of "The 39 Steps." Billed as a spoof, it's Patrick Barlow's adaptation of a book by John Buchan from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock. When the national touring production of the London and New York hit came to San Francisco's Curran Theatre in December 2009, it was entirely too frantic, played so broad and so silly that it soon grew tiresome. TheatreWorks director Robert Kelley and his four-person cast show more restraint, relying on the material itself and the actors' skills to convey the story and action. The result is often hilarious, always entertaining. The more intimate setting of the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts also helps.

Mark Anderson Phillips anchors the production as the debonair Richard Hannay, a Canadian in London in 1935. Having grown somewhat weary of his life, he decides to go to the theater, where he encounters a mysterious woman, Annabella Schmidt (Rebecca Dines), who asks to go home with him because she's being pursued. In short order, she's stabbed to death, but not before she warns him that England is in grave danger because some important, secret information is about to leave the country. She also tells him enough to send him on his way to Scotland in search of the elusive 39 Steps. In the meantime, he finds himself fleeing the police because he's the prime suspect in Annabella's murder.

Dines plays most of the other female characters, including Pamela, who becomes Richard's unwitting companion and eventual love interest. All of the other characters are played by Cassidy Brown and Dan Hiatt, who often change characters merely with the switch of a hat. Brown also appears as some female characters. The overall result is a delightful romp that showcases the actors' diversity while entertaining the audience with its story. The production also has numerous verbal and visual allusions to Hitchcock films. They include a silhouette of the famed director, who was known for brief appearances in his films.

Joe Ragey designed the minimal set, which starts with a virtually bare stage, while B. Modern's costumes accommodate quick changes. The lighting is by Steven B. Mannshardt with sounds by Christopher Graham.

TheatreWorks proves that less is more and that bigger isn't necessarily better in its fast-paced, highly enjoyable "The 39 Steps."

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